5 Must-Read Books on San Francisco Black History and Culture

Once you become interested in San Francisco history, it’s a thirst that seems to never be quenched.

You find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of old photos, antique maps, personal narratives, and facts about your hometown you’ve never known, and you instantly want to learn more. Unfortunately, there are certain areas of Bay history that seem harder to unearth, people and places that stand at risk of being forgotten, legacies in danger of never serving as inspiration and education. And it’s worse when these regard BIPOC. We definitely have to do better about preserving all of San Francisco’s history. 

While we need more people to write books about African-American history and culture in the Bay Area, we do have some books that let readers in on the Black San Francisco experience. We want to share five of them, in honor of Black History Month. Pick them up, read them, and share the knowledge, because this, too, was SF. 

Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West: 1900-1953, by Albert S. Broussard

Published in 1993, Albert Broussard’s Black in San Francisco examines how African-Americans in The City, during the first half of the 20th century, experienced inequality in housing, employment, and politics. During WWII, many Black migrants from the South had arrived in the Bay Area, to work in war industries, including shipbuilding. Others arrived as a result of the available housing and businesses lost by the Japanese and Japanese-Americans who had been interned in camps. The Great Migration also contributed to an influx of African-American residents in San Francisco, who primarily lived in the Fillmore District. This growth in the Black population, as well as the war, led to the beginnings of the local Civil Rights Movement, which Broussard chronicles in this book, in addition to profiling local Black leaders.  // Available at AbeBooks.com, $22.14

African-Americans of San Francisco, by Jan Batiste Adkins

The Images of America book series are packed with old photos that give readers an insight into the history and culture of so many cities and towns in America, no matter how small. One that you definitely have to check out is Jan Batiste Adkins’ African Americans of San Francisco. The book is an expansion of her masters’ thesis at San Jose State University, which explored “the history of the African American community as reflected in Black newspapers of the 1850s through the 1890s.” It extends its content to the present, focusing on early pioneers, the mid-century migration, Black leadership, student rights, and more along the way. 

(Other Images of America books that focus on the Black experience in the Bay Area are Black Artists in Oakland, African Americans of San Jose and Santa Clara County, and African Americans of Monterey County. // Available at thriftbooks.com, $19.16

Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, by Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts

Did you know that the Fillmore District was known as the Harlem of the West? During the 1940s and ‘50s, the Fillmore played host to iconic jazz artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Coltrane, in legendary establishments like Bop City, the Fillmore Auditorium, and the Champagne Supper Club. It was an iconic time in African-American history, and it happened right here in San Francisco. Harlem of the West The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Area, by Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts, brings us back to that glitzy time, with 220 restored photos, and several first-hand accounts. // Available at alibris.com, $29.87

Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco, by John William Templeton

Historian John William Templeton brings us this in-depth book about what it means to be Black in San Francisco, entitled Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich African-American Experience in San Francisco. For the publication, Templeton analyzed every Black newspaper in San Francisco from 1854 to 1985, and “every musical performance in the city from 1849 to 1930,” in addition to other detailed research. It’s one of the scholarly publications you definitely want to reference regarding San Francisco history. // Available at queencalafiamovie.com, $34.95

Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco, by Douglas Henry Daniels

Oftentimes, the accomplishments and achievements of BIPOC are not taught in schools. It is this success that serves as an inspiring legacy for the next generations, but many aren’t gaining access to this important information. Douglas Henry Daniels’ Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco reveals that “those [of the Great Migration] who traveled west, or arrived by ship, were often independent, sophisticated, single men. Many were associated with the transportation boom following the Gold Rush; others traveled as employees of wealthy individuals.” You’ll learn about this and more, regarding historic Black culture in The City, in this important read. // Available at AbeBooks.com, $18.98

While you are reading books on Black history and culture, you should also be buying books from BIPOC bookstores in the Bay Area. Here are several you should definitely shop from:

5 Must-Read Books on San Francisco Black History and Culture
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